Well that’s it. After months of constant rumours, ‘sightings’ in the city and even the odd actual signing, the transfer window is slammed shut for the remainder of 2010. Clubs will have to be content with their current group of players because this is what they are stuck with. For some, frustration will boil over at missed targets and unfilled gaps but for many managers an overriding feel of relief will grasp them as they finally know what their squad will be. Not to mention the opportunity to be able to ignore plucky agents offering their next Lionel Messi every other day.
For Newcastle United, dismay took over from confidence almost as soon as it set in after walking the Championship and crossing the 100-point mark after the ‘no capital outlay’ statement a few short months ago. With supporters united in their belief that, while the current crop of players had completed a marvellous job in bringing Premier League football back to Tyneside, there was simply not enough quality or depth in the squad to stay up. If no money was going to be spent, what were the chances of returning to the same situation in a year’s time?
Thankfully, this would not prove to be the case. Either Hughton visited Ashley and Llambias to inform them that he needed money to keep the club up and successfully persuaded them to part with a few bob, or perhaps it was all a clever strategy from day one to lower expectations and bring the prices down for targets. Whatever the answer is, for the second transfer window running Ashley hasn’t actually done that bad a job in fairness.
While it took a while to get the transfers rolling, particularly having known of the club’s Premier League status since April, James Perch became the first new addition to the squad. He epitomises the Hughton type of player, in that he can play in a number of positions, which is perhaps more to do with the tight funds at the manager’s disposal. While his departure has received mixed reactions from Nottingham Forest supporters – some were happy to see the back of him as they saw him as an average Championship player, while others identified great potential – he has made a decent start to life in the big time. Judging any player on their debut at Old Trafford is unfair, and although he has made a few mistakes in the other games, he looks like a player who will grow in confidence as he gets used to his surroundings.
The acquisition of Dan Gosling caught many people off guard, particularly given the fact he was available on a free transfer. At just 20 years of age, he was highly regarded by Everton and even tipped to be a future England international. Indeed, perhaps only the presence of Jack Rodwell, who may well break into the senior side this term, has prevented him from acquiring a higher profile within the club. As is the norm with many young midfielders brought to St. James’ Park in recent years, the question has been asked whether he could be the next Rob Lee – a box-to-box midfielder who can get stuck into opponents, has great vision to pick out the right pass, and is not afraid to make a late arrival in the box to pop up with a few goals a season. If he can get anywhere near the heights of the former England player, then Hughton might have unearthed a gem. Of course, the only downside to this transfer is that he is currently recovering from a long-term injury and won’t be around until after Christmas. Still, midfield is one area where Hughton is well off at the moment and Gosling can certainly be placed in the ‘one for the future’ category.
Next up was a player who should have been signed years ago after he left Arsenal, but instead we’ll have to be content with his arrival at a fresh, young 35 years old (36 by the time he finally plays a game) – Sol Campbell. Although many fans remain sceptical over his fitness, age, pace and hunger for the game, there will not be many players in the league who can boast the experience of Campbell. He has won countless trophies – something Newcastle could do with – a stack of international caps, and has played in the six major tournaments with England. In what is a relatively young defence with little Premiership experience, Campbell can offer a cool, experienced head. What he lacks in pace can easily be made up for in intelligence and Newcastle can only benefit, even if just for a season or two.
It appeared that Newcastle could have been heading for a season with just the three new players before Hughton hit the double bag. Cheick Tiote has arrived as the biggest signing in terms of transfer fee – £3.5m – and yet is an unknown quantity to the majority of fans. Nevertheless, he played in all three of Ivory Coast’s World Cup games and touches down in the north east on the back of winning the Dutch title with Steve McClaren’s FC Twente. While another defensive midfielder did not appear to be a necessity, he may offer something different to what is already in there with an abundance of English midfielders. A lot of the best teams in Europe are packing their midfield with Africans and perhaps it is for good reason – they often offer strength, skill and intelligence, which are translated to English football easier than from other footballing cultures. The fact Tiote doesn’t carry too large a reputation could stand him in stead to become a cult hero should he reach his reported potential.
However, the biggest signing of the summer has to be Hatem Ben Arfa, who was finally brought to Tyneside after a month-long saga. Newcastle’s midfield has been crying out for pace and creativity for years and the Frenchman could finally satisfy a demand fans have been echoing for too long. Of course, the attitude he displayed to manouevre the move from Marseille will not be to the liking of everyone, who may fear yet another mercenary coming just for the money or to engineer a move to a bigger club in the future. But, they say the best players carry baggage, so let’s just hope he is worth it! Ginola and Robert weren’t exactly choir boys themselves, were they? And, at the end of the day, his signing is on a loan, meaning if it all goes wrong Newcastle are not tied up with a player on big money who nobody wants. With Carroll clearly the main man up front this season, Ben Arfa may well be employed in a supporting role to feed off his aerial prowess. Which means Kevin Nolan may want to watch out…
Overall, it’s been a satisfying summer. Four of the five acquisitions fit neatly into the new transfer policy as they fall under the age of 26 with a sell-on value, complemented nicely by some great experience from Campbell. Yet perhaps the best piece of business has been ensuring no players have departed to keep the squad fairly bulky and competition fierce in most areas. Even Steven Taylor has not been sold or loaned out, and has tonight been named in the 25-man squad, meaning he may be close to agreeing a new contract. Of course, many fans would have like a striker, with Robbie Keane being a great target but for one reason or other not secured, and cover at left-back would have been welcomed. But we were never really going to be completely satisifed at the end of a transfer window, were we?
Instead, Hughton has once again demonstrated great patience, realism and astuteness in his signings. None of the players bought appear to be anything but his own, and there are no major amounts of money being exchanged hands. Expectations were low at the beginning of the summer, and now a few decent, if unspectacular, signings can offer a cause for optimism after a promising start to the season for the Magpies. Long may it continue.
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